Hero


Viewed – 11 March 2022 Blu-ray

Asian Cinema Season

Not often has Chinese / Hong Kong action cinema been privy to the big budgets you see for a major Hollywood production, but following the Oscar success of Ang Lee’s acclaimed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came this lavish, beautifully filmed movie. Director Yi-Mou Zhang’s (Raise the Red Lantern) 2002 action/drama stars Kung fu star Jet Li as a lone assassin on the brink of completing his mission, who recants his journey and the foes he has overcome to be before his intended target.

Kung fu art

Told in a series of flashbacks, what’s most notable about this is that each flashback is given its own colour scheme; sequences shot in garish red with red costumes and red tinged scenery, or blue costumes and blue scenery and so on. It’s a very effective approach and looks stunning. Add to this several visually creative fight scenes, and although the style is excessive and not exactly realistic, it gives the movie a distinct personality.

As this is mostly of the wire-enhanced style martial arts, it can occasionally look a bit silly, but under Zhang’s direction it’s cool and exciting more often than it’s not. Li is stoic throughout, but proves an effective lead, even if the more emotional and deeper performances come from Maggie Cheung (In the Mood for Love) and Tony Leung (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings). The story at times gets bogged down in philosophy too, and isn’t quite as engaging as I’d have liked. Regardless, this was still very entertaining and is possibly one of the best looking movies I’ve ever seen. Check it out.

Verdict: Recommended

Once Upon a Time in China


Viewed – 12 February 2022 Blu-ray

Asian Cinema Season

During my obsession with all-things Hong Kong Cinema in the nineties, I considered this 1991 movie one of the top-tier titles. A historical Kung-fu epic that follows the story of Chinese folk hero, doctor and martial arts practitioner Wong Fei Hung (Jet Li). We’re dropped into a period in his life when western invasion looms on the horizon as he struggles to defend the way of life off the Chinese people during political and domestic turmoil.

Director Tsui Hark delivers a fine balance between historical drama and Kung fu action, in a beautifully filmed and highly entertaining movie. At times the budget feels stretched and there’s a few times it feels rough around the edges … and performances by the English / American actors are quite bad. However, where it matters it delivers. Co-starring Hong Kong veterans Yuen Biao and the exquisite Rosamund Kwan, we get strong scenes of character and emotional drama in between the action. The story which focuses on learning the right path, not letting other influences steer you astray etc. works well.

Yet it’s in the various action sequences where this excels. Tsui Hark knows how to showcase the various Wu Shu martial arts on display, and although some of it is of the ‘wire-enhanced’ variety – it’s exhilarating. That theme-tune also enhances every scene it’s used in. Main villain Iron Vest (Yen Shi-kwan) is a formidable opponent for Jet Li but is also a sympathetic character with depth I wasn’t expecting. Li himself is fantastic, and although an on set injury meant some stunts had to be performed by a stunt double, it’s barely noticeable. However his stoic yet likeable performance as Fei Hung is career defining and made the movie for me.

The Blu-ray, part of a Eureka Classics box set has the movie in decent condition, although I feel the picture could be a tad better for a 4K restoration. Soundtrack is presented in original stereo Cantonese, Mandarin or 5.1 English dubbed. Extras-wise there’s a commentary from Hong Kong cinema expert Mike Leeder and filmmaker Arne Venema. There’s also a documentary on real life historical figure Wong Fei Hung, which is in three parts spread over the first three movies in the set. Add to this interviews and a small booklet and this is decent treatment for one of the genuine classics of the genre.

Verdict:

(the movie) Recommended

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Mulan


Viewed – 08 September 2020 Disney+

I never got around to watching the animated original, yet it had always intrigued me … but unlike some other live action Disney remakes of late, I thought this would suit such a take better. Telling the tale of a young woman in ancient China who chooses to join the Emperors army disguised as a man, after an invading army declare war.

This is a gorgeous movie, awash with vibrant colours, beautiful costumes and stunning scenery and locations. Yes, there’s an overdose of CGI and occasionally the use of green screen for backgrounds is a bit obvious, but overall this was a treat for the eyes. Martial arts star Donnie Yen appears as a general who trains up the Emperors army, and an unrecognisable Jet Li appears as the Emperor himself. Jason Scott Lee’s vengeful leader of the invading army is good but he’s overshadowed by Gong Li’s brilliantly ruthless witch, who is definitely one of the movie’s stand out characters. Yet Liu Yifei as Mulan herself is very good, tough yet vulnerable and can handle the various elaborate fight sequences and carries the movie well. Yet the star here is the direction and visuals, Action scenes are plentiful and the camera work is often unique and stylish.

The story is nothing that special though and gets rather predictable. Some of the gravity-defying fantasy aspects can get a bit silly too. Also I found myself having to suspend belief when Mulan was disguised as a man, but still looked feminine to me. However, despite these things, I was still highly entertained from start to finish. One to check out.

Verdict: Recommended

The Expendables


Viewed – 30 January 2010  Blu-ray

Just the idea of this movie was enough to get me excited.  Some of the greatest action stars of the eighties, joined by a few modern action stars, all in the same film?  Where do I buy the ticket?   Now beyond this initial pull, the plot follows tough ass covert mercenaries for hire who are called into assassinate an evil dictator in South America.  Sylvester Stallone catches the eye of a pretty woman though who also happens to be the dictator’s daughter, and soon the mission becomes personal and everybody gets to blow shit up – big time.

Continue reading